In headline: Honeymoon Beach on the island of St. John is postcard-perfect. St. Thomas and nearby St. John are the first port of call on Celebrity’s Ultimate Caribbean Cruise.
Above: While visiting St. Kitts, take in beach or cooking tours.
Below: The main dining room, Silhouette, offers fine food and service amid elegant surroundings, including a two-story wine tower.
And this was only my first port on Celebrity’s Ultimate Caribbean Cruise aboard the Equinox, a ship with a host of surprises to lure me back as well.
Saints and sisters
The Ultimate Caribbean Cruise is a delicious blend of port calls and sea days that will appeal to those who love to get off the boat and those who love to cruise. Leaving from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., the cruise is flanked by two sea days at each end, with five days ashore in the middle–one day each in St. Thomas, St. Kitts, Barbados, Dominica and St. Maarten/St. Martin.
Some passengers came specifically to laze on the beach at every stop. Some cruised to max out their credit cards. And for cruisers like my husband and me who can’t wait to explore a new site, Celebrity offered eight pages of tempting excursions, so not finding something to do would be impossible. But St. Thomas–the eastern Caribbean’s busiest cruise port that’s renowned for great shopping–wasn’t even on my radar. We made a beeline for the nearby island of St. John to hike Virgin Islands National Park and grab a wee bit of beach time.
St. Kitts, however, called for a different tactic.
The island is crowned by 3,792-foot dormant volcano Mount Liamuiga. Its sister island, Nevis (NEEvis), is a fast ferry ride two miles south. Although St. Kitts’ black-sand beaches and snorkeling waters were enticing, we caught a Celebrity culinary excursion, a decision we didn’t regret. Most of the day was spent in Caribbean Cooks, a 90-year-old plantation house, learning about then eating the blend of European, South American and Caribbean recipes.
The next day brought us to Barbados, where tours of Mount Gay Rum (where the libation was created 300-plus years ago) and Banks Brewery (the island’s sole brewer) provide a different educational experience capped by tasty samples. While Barbados sports 1,500 rum shops, visitors should also try Banks’ sweet Twist Shandy made with red sorrel.
Out Back, in town
Rain made the port of call with us at Dominica, an island behind the curve on tourism development, a delight for us but a disappointment for the ship’s shoppers. We again decided on an excursion and went driving along winding, narrow mountain roads to visit rainforest sites. Morne Bruce provided a bird’s-eye view of the capital, Roseau, before we headed for Morne Trois Pitons National Park, where short hikes led first to Trafalgar Falls, then, at a second stop, the Emerald Pool, which is surely a verdant, quiet respite when the cruise ships aren’t in town.
St. Maarten/St. Martin, a small island with two nationalities–the Dutch in the southern half, the French in the northern section–was the final island destination. Another shopper’s paradise, Philipsburg’s Front Street in St. Maarten boasts a storefront for fine goods, so lovers of Ferragamo, Rolex and the ubiquitous cruise port shop, Diamonds International, won’t be disappointed.
Our St. Martin browsing consisted more of island-craft vendors scattered near numerous al fresco eateries, including West Indian restaurants where island favorites such as Johnny cakes, saltfish and conch stew filled the menus. We zoned out at popular, clothing-optional Orient Beach on the Atlantic shorefront to complete our islands’ escape.
The unequaled equinox
The number of Equinox cruisers aboard purely for the ship was surprising, but after my time on a Solstice-class ship, it was clear why Celebrity ranks as so many people’s favorite. Equinox and its siblings, quite simply, boast features and activities that no other line has.
I learned to play bocce at The Lawn Club, a half-acre of real grass complete with a ridge that made my ball skitter sideways (that’s my story and I’m sticking to it). There also is croquet and the chance to perfect a putt.
The Hot Glass Show is a happy collaboration between Celebrity and the nonprofit Corning Museum of Glass. With knowledgeable hosts/glassblowers, the show is offered any number of times, but the best time to go is evening. Not only does the glass glow more vibrantly, some of the week’s glassworks are raffled.
Three specialty (premium-charged) restaurants entice with sumptuous menus and impeccable service–Silk Harvest, shared dishes and intimacy in a traditional Asian setting; Tuscan Grille, Italian with an expansive view of the ship’s wake; and Murano, indulgent elegance plus decadent gourmet delights. Reservations book fast. But even the main dining room, the Silhouette, features excellent food and service, contemporary white and silver decor, and a two-story wine tower, which holds 2,800 bottles of the impressive 500 wine labels on board.
The Celebrity Life program includes activities, such as the Star Chef’s Cooking Competition, Beyond the Podium speakers on a variety of subjects and Rosetta Stone language classes. And that doesn’t begin to scratch the surface of activities aboard.
No matter the interest, there’s a never-ending adventure on an island and on deck with the Equinox.
Karen Eakins is features editor of “Home & Away” magazine.